Hi from me

Little bits and bobs of my life, my thoughts and my experiences in the place that has - I guess - become my home

From Pen

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Tidal Shift

It's not too hard to reconnect when you feel the need, or when you look in the mirror and are not quite sure who the baggy-eyed witch staring back at you is. What is hard is admitting that you have the need in the first place - now that can take some humility.

My great leveller is the ocean, a trait that runs so strongly through the Cabot line that anyone doubting the true identity of my father would be floored by this luminous thread in the genetic patchwork of the family.
Yesterday, I took a wooden boat from one of the beaches that lie to the north of Dar es Salaam and, after a half hour crossing which eased me into another mood and rhythm, arrived on the island of Mbuja with my thoughts starting to untie themselves and my body visibly relaxing.

I adore the theatre. I love great cinema, can be distracted by artifacts, get absorbed by art in all forms and am carried back through time when I enter, say, the National Gallery. Goodness, I miss all that. But, for me, there is something equally transporting and uplifting about being removed from all cultural references, in nothing but bikini, and running down to the ocean through icing-sugar sand so soft that you sink and trip all the way to the water.

When I was a child, during the many summers that my family passed on the beaches of Brittany in France, I developed a passion for sea life which was inspired and nurtured by Dad. Dad would endow me with some aptly over-the-top title such as 'Great Mariner Extraordinaire', and we disappeared for hours with buckets and nets in search of some prize catches.
There were many. The rock pools in that area were a child's paradise, teeming with fish, shrimp, crabs, urchins, anemones..... Some of our catches were surprisingly large and we literally spent hours scrambling over rocks, slipping across weedy, wet, barnacled expanses bent double as we turned rocks and prodded our nets into the deeper pools. It was here, in Brittany, that I really fell in love with the sea and, at the same time, discovered that my Dad, too, was a child again when presented with the simple wonders of rock-pooling.

I have never been afraid to run into the ocean, to take on the currents, or to get my head under water. I have always, also, been a strong swimmer. This, again, is pure Dad: this is the man who was a young lifeguard off the Devon coast; once made the Brittany news for a valiant sea rescue of a flailing swimmer; would, in my teenage years, lead me out into the Atlantic swell from the far southwestern beaches of Portugal and commandeer two hour long snorkeling marathons in water so wild and chilly that I had no option but to invest unfathomable faith in him.
It was here that Dad taught me what has become one of my guiding principles in life: just keep moving. Then, it was an instruction designed to prevent my lips from bluing at the edges in that icy sea. Now, it means something a little more than that to me, and I recall it and am driven by it at times when life threatens to grind to a halt.

Mum was, on more than one occasion, a panicking, pacing figure on the shore, wondering where her teenage daughter might have chosen as a swimming target. Again inspired by Dad, who had a penchant for using boats out at sea as destination points, I once decided to swim solo out to a boat which did not seem so far away. Except that it was. It was bloody far away, and even I have a recollection of a vague concern that crossed my mind as I swam towards the apparently chimerical vessel. I reached the shore an hour and a half after I had departed, weak-kneed, shaking, purple at the extremities, and with a mother apoplectic and so distraught that even today I cannot quite forgive myself.

So, to the ocean.

The Indian Ocean that sweeps around Africa’s east coast, and nudges the coast line and islands of Tanzania, is a tamer beast than the Atlantic of my past. At least, the parts that I can access are positively benign and, despite the warnings by certain slightly sensationalist relatives who warn me of the dangers of, variously, sharks, jelly fish, and Somali pirates (I wish I was joking), I know it to be kind and gentle.

Admittedly, it is not always refreshing as such, especially at this time of year when the blistering heat of the day turns the great expanse of water into a giant bath, but the water around the islands in this part of the world is magically clear, warmly reassuring, and, for this sea lover, hypnotic.

As I said, my mind starts to come into balance and my physical being is also somehow righted when I immerse myself in the sea. So it was yesterday. The moment my kanga was off, so was I: snorkel in hand, tripping down the beach and soon completely immersed in the warm embrace of the sea. There is no other metaphor but to say that it was crystal clear yesterday and even I, a loather of cliché, cannot find a better description.

It is then that it happens: the reconnection. Once under, with snorkel and mask in place and free to thrash out to where the coral reef, eroded and not nearly as spectacular as it surely was some years back, I am transported. Not, so much, as to another time or even another place but, rather, transported back to ‘me’. In that case, maybe not transportation at all but rather a kind of ‘bringing back’: a return. For this is the moment when I forget what my hair is doing, have no inkling of the imperfections of my body, drift far from the day to day detritus of the life that I have built, break the relay race of question-answer-question which at times plagues me, and, finally, gloriously, actually stop thinking.
At that moment, when I am lost without thought, suspended in the water with my body and spirit and mind quite free – I suddenly, dramatically, feel just like ‘me’. It’s not a certain mood, emotion, age, or anything specific, it is purely a sense of being whole and sound and somehow, simply, back.

Yesterday, back exposed to the sun, body carried by the Indian Ocean, spirit lifted by the irrepressible pleasure of watching the world of fishkind going about its colourful daily business, surrounded by legions of jellyfish which pumped past full of casual vigour, wrapped in the warmth of the salt water, I came back again and emerged, as I always do, walking steady and strong. Me again.

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